Jordan: The inevitability of change
Dana Mar’ie - 03/09/2012
The Jordanian Spring started on the 7th of January 2011 with small-scale demonstrations in the village of Theeban protesting against the high prices. Seven weeks later, on the 18th of February, the weekly Friday protest that was taking place in downtown Amman was attacked by a small group of government supporters with sticks and stones. That was the point when Abdullah Mahadeen decided to join the movement.
The 25-year-old Mahadeen, works as an auditor and is a member of The Jordanian Youth Movement. He says it includes people who belong to political parties and some who don’t. “We are all friends; we could be playing with the play station or sitting at home and talking politics. Our meetings never end.”
According to Mahadeen, the protests in Jordan were not an imitation of what was happening in the other Arab countries. “Jordan has been the land of revolutions for long. Some things that happened in Jordan did not happen in any other Arab country.” Mahadeen refers to several events: the death under torture of Abdelfattah Tolestan, the communist school teacher, in 1962, the Yarmouk University incident that led to the death of three student activists who were protesting the increase in tuition fees in 1984, the 1989 April uprising and the bread riots of 1996.” The Arab Spring did not start something new, it only relighted the flame.”
Another activist who believes in the authenticity of the Jordan protests is Toujan Al-Faisal. Al-Faisal has a long history of in the opposition; she was the first female Member of Parliament in 1993, she is also a writer and a former TV journalist.
“In the past a person could choose to be in opposition or not, and he would be respected. After the year 2000, if he isn’t in opposition then he definitely has no self-respect and no one will respect him. Every person should be in opposition, every Jordanian has to be in opposition. There is no choice now.” This strict division evoked by Al-Faisal results from “the current decision makers who either don’t know what they are doing or know what they’re doing and have no scruples.”
Al-Faisal was born in 1948 and for her, a lot of things changed in Jordan. In fact, she looks at things retrospectively and is able to mention major factors that affected the country, “We are now in a different world. There is a huge difference between the world before Satellite TV and internet and the world after. Now, everything is well known, you can’t hide anything. There used to be corruption and acts of treason but the opposition was the one who knew about it. The opposition was dealt with harshly, some people died under the torture of the Jordanian Intelligence. The majority of the people were simple and didn’t understand.”
According to Al-Faisal, another major factor was the death of King Hussein and his succession. King Abdullah II ascended to the throne on the 7th February 1999. This represented a “write-off of everything that King Hussein had represented”, he who was known for his charisma and astute diplomacy. Al-Faisal states that despite the decline in the nineties due to the signing of the Wadi Araba peace treaty with Israel, King Hussein was sick and the people’s sympathy gave him that margin to escape the consequences.
In 2011 a new factor was added to the list, the Jordanian Spring returned politics to the forefront of people’s daily concerns. People now realize that there is something wrong and they see protest as a legitimate means to voice their demands. Mahadeen calls this “a culture of protest.” Yet, to him one thing is still incomplete, that is, identifying the connection between the demands for an improvement in the standard of living and the political demands. To him, the link is becoming clearer day by day. “Politics is the art of living, it’s not just the work of the elite”, he adds.
Both Al-Faisal and Mahadeen have criticized the reforms that the system has undergone till now to appease the growing anger. For instance, the amendments that were introduced to the Constitution in September 2011 are not enough.
“Opening the door to amend the constitution is very important but it’s not enough, there are three important articles that haven’t been touched. Articles 34, 35 and 36 which talk about the authorities of the King”, says Mahadeen. On the other hand Al-Faisal highlighted the fact that the amendments deny political parties and individuals their right to contest the constitutionality of laws directly before the court.
Despite the lack of real reform, the street movement has achieved success according to Al-Faisal. It helped Jordanians redefine themselves with in a modern way. “Jordanians used to be subjects but now the people realized that they are citizens with rights. I vote and I want an elected government and parliament, I want the resources to come back to me.”
This new generation of youth activists is not isolated from the previous generations. Al-Faisal constantly meets youth activists. She believes they have awareness, intellect and vision but they still lack experience. Her continuous conversations with them aim to help improve their methods but she admits that she learns from them too. “They see the present more than us because it’s their generation and not ours. What they see will colour the coming period because their numbers exceed us, if we talk about a democracy.”
Two activists that lived under different circumstances in two different generations seem to have a lot in common; their unbounded optimism and their firm belief that change is inevitable.